Gerry Johnston spoke to Barcelona fan @kevvwill ahead of the new season and they discussed the club’s transfer targets ahead of a challenge to Real Madrid’s title defence.
What was your overall verdict on Barcelona last season? Did winning the Copa del Rey soften the disappointment of losing La Liga and only reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League?
The team was better than people want to admit. It was erratic, and prone to oddly flat performances at bad times. Points dropped against lower-table sides, something a club that is focused doesn’t do, were crucial to the season outcome. Same with Champions League. Those goals conceded in Turin against Juventus were inexcusable. People blamed tactics, but it was just poor execution. The season came down to missed chances and mental lapses. This happens. Barça is a lot better than its detractors believe.The third year of a coach’s tenure is often subject to mental lapses and weirdness. It’s hard to stay that ramped up for that long.
The Copa was fun, but exists in its own space. The Barça season was massive fun, from crazy matches and the PSG comeback to the brilliant away Classic win. But I never judge the success or failure of a season by trophies. That isn’t the point for me. As a supporter, I want to have fun watching the club that I love.
Ernesto Valverde will replace Luis Enrique in the dugout this season. What are your thoughts on the new boss?
Fantastic selection. Smart, and is capable of extracting the maximum from young players. Also defensively solid. His qualities at working with youth will be enhanced by the fact that Barça B has been promoted. As Luis Enrique said, Segunda B wasn’t the right level for players to shuttle back and forth. Segunda A is. I expect to see more looks at players such as Palencia and Cucurella, both of who look the business at fullback. He’s also calm, which will be a massive benefit on the bench. He got success from Athletic Bilbao despite a restrictive talent philosophy. He has significantly better tools with which to work at Barça. The biggest question will be whether Valverde is fully committed to rotation, from everyone including Messi. Keeping the team fresh for April will be crucial.
Lionel Messi has signed a new contract with the club which should see him finish his career with Barça. How big a boost is it to get that deal sorted?
That deal was always going to be sorted. Any worries about it can be chalked up to social media hysteria and nonsense. I don’t see it being much of a boost at all, because his teammates knew he was never going anywhere.
Things have been quite quiet so far in the transfer market with Gerard Deulofeu arriving and Jordi Mboula and Cristian Tello leaving. What are your thoughts on those deals?
In order, weird, unconcerned and good riddance. Deulofeu’s talent is without question. His mentality is quite consistently under question, and for good reason. The reason he did well in Serie A was because of how Milan defended. Barça doesn’t defend like that, so if he doesn’t track back, he won’t be getting minutes. It’s as simple as that. He also makes bad decisions on the ball, and is selfish. The hope is that Valverde, combined with the peer pressure from teammates who are the best players in the game will snap him into shape, as he knows this is his last shot at a giant club.
Mboula wasn’t even getting regular time with Barça B, He’s talented, but how talented we have yet to fully understand. The Monaco offer was irresistible for him. He would have been nuts not to take it. For all of the implications that people think it has for the state of things at the club, Mboula was offered a shot at the first team with a club renowned right now for youth talent. This is as opposed to shots at the B team at Barça. No player in his right mind wouldn’t have leapt for Monaco.
Tello has always been overrated. With a dumb enough opponent who lets him make that run, he looks a deity. Few opponents do that. He has found his correct level at a mid-table club.
Are there any areas in the squad that you think need to be improved on this summer? Has anyone been linked to fill those positions?
Right back. Everything starts with right back. (Nelson Semedo has signed for Barcelona). What a right back does is returns Sergi Roberto to midfield. It also keeps Rakitic from having to babysit, and doesn’t expose Pique’s sluggishness when Sergi Roberto is found out at RB. It also makes Iniesta’s life easier because he is covering less space because his midfield mate can help him. Same with Busquets.
I also don’t believe that midfield is as important as others do in terms of the transfer market. If we want the club to commit to youth and Masia products, we have three of them in Rafinha, Sergi Roberto and Carles Alena, all of whom have gobs of talent. Sergi Samper is also in the frame as a Busquets sub, even as I am less enamoured of him than others. We’ll see.
The biggest problem with Barça right now is uncertainty. Which Andre Gomes will the club have, the one who finished the season strong and looked ready to make a big step, or the laconic mope. Same with Alcacer. People will dismiss his goals as “Oh, it was against … ” but the movement and finishing quality were of a level that showed signs of a player finally finding his feet. Those two players are going to be key. If they come good, the team will be as good as Luis Enrique thought it was going to be last summer. If they tank, there will be problems.
I think that every target Barça has been linked to, including Verratti, is vaporware. This board and tech staff are exceptional at not having leaks. There has been no real news about who the club might be after. It’s all been speculation for the most part. We know the Ceballos interest is real because it was confirmed by the Betis president. But we don’t know how real.
If you were allowed to make one realistic signing for the club who would you bring in?
I would try for Azpilicueta from Chelsea. If the club is going to keep Aleix Vidal and Deulofeu, a defensive RB will be needed. His age is right as it will give Palencia a chance to come fully mature. Can he be tempted away from Chelsea? Can any player be prised from his team?
Is there anyone in the squad that you are concerned might be tempted to move away from Barcelona?
No. Why would they? Rafinha might jump at the chance for a real starting role somewhere, but that’s about it.
What are the clubs plans this summer? Do they have any tours or training camps planned?
U.S. tour is the big deal, featuring a couple of matches vs Real Madrid that will be mediocre and over hyped — and also meaningless. The end of the Champions Cup business will run straight into the end of the Gamper. Frankly, U.S. tours suck. It’s a lot of travel, messed up sleeping and training schedules. The preparation for the season is less than ideal. But the players have had a real summer vacation for the first time in years. I think we will see the effects of that on the pitch, especially for the likes of Messi, Busquets and Iniesta, not to mention Suarez and Neymar. Suarez went into the tank in April, a key period of slumping that harmed the team. This is why Alcacer coming good is crucial. Suarez shouldn’t need to play all the time.
Are there any youngsters at the club who you think could make the breakthrough into the first team this season?
No, Palencia and Cucurella are worth a look, and expect to see them get work with the first team. That B promotion was huge. Alena is already part of the first team and should stay there.
What are the club’s targets for next season?
I think as usual, the goal will be to win everything. Barca has the talent to win the treble. But that has been true every season since 2008. Social media hysteria and pessimism has made us forget how close the team has been to that goal, year after year. So much will depend on using Messi in the right way, and properly structuring the team formation so that its key players who are facing the wrong side of time, such as Iniesta, are positioned to be at their best.